Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Leinil Yu, Dave McCaig (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
EDITORíS NOTE: New Avengers #35 arrives in stores this Wednesday, October 10.
Ariel Carmona Jr.
The latest issue of New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis is an exercise in patience and at the same time a fun read. Bendis still misses the mark when it comes to scripting dialogue for the superhero medium; he seems reluctant to study the form of conventional comic scripts and instead has the worldís most recognizable heroes run around talking like they are a bunch of frat boys. Itís jarring and strangely off putting.
Fortunately for Bendis, he has an above average artist in Leinil Yu handling the penciling tasks on the book, and Marvel seems to have given him carte blanche to craft big sweeping story arcs whose ramifications in the mainstream Marvel universe make this comic required reading for fans.
All of the comicís previous weaknesses are revisited in this issue, including chiefly an inability (or perhaps a conscious editorial decision?) to not resolve plot points and instead add new elements into the narrative. Enter The Hood. In just a few issues Bendis has taken this character from obscure villain to a prominent player in the Marvel underworld, as though he wants to elevate him to the level of a Wilson Fisk. Yet the Hoodís attempt to rally his peers is a refreshing plot development and loads of fun to read about.
The Hood seems to be taking the Butch Cassidy approach to entrepreneurship when it comes to rallying his peers. Thereís a great line in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when Paul Newman says, ďIíve got vision and the rest of the world is wearing bifocals,Ē and that is what the Hood seems to be saying as well. Even a symbiote invasion looks like a lucrative opportunity to him.
Another frustrating element to this comic book is Bendisí attempts to interweave the events in this comic to those of his other Avengers book. This move seems to make sense considering the New Avengers have become their own outlaw faction following the events of Civil War, but Iíll be damned if I am going to be manipulated into buying a book I have very little vested interest in, just so I can connect the dots.
Consistently, this is the book I look most forward to on a monthly basis; itís like crack for the mind, but itís also all over the map in terms of structure and narrative and this can get a little tiring over the course of a long period of time. Itís also nerve racking how the pacing fluctuates from one issue to the next with one issue delivering a frantic and action packed adventure and the next mostly talking heads with little plot advancement. This latest installment falls in the latter category.
Nevertheless, some very entertaining story elements have been introduced or revisited in just a couple of issues which keeps the comic feeling fresh and entertaining: The night nurse as a romantic interest for Dr. Strange, Clint Barton as Ronin, Symbiotes attacking New York City, and now the formation of a criminal gang spearheaded by the Hood.
Final word: Despite a few flaws, this book will stay on top of my reading list as long as the surprises keep coming and as long as it manages to remain a consistently entertaining read.
The gang gets together as The Hood successfully sets himself up as the Godfather of superpowered crime in New York. An ex-Avenger has an example made out of her, Deathlok is put to (not so good) use and the symbiote infection of Manhattan is teased yet again.
This issue is not about the New Avengers. No, this one is about the bad guys, more specifically Parker Robbins, a.k.a. The Hood, and the posse of supervillains heís banding together who, for the most part, are the Raft escapees from three years ago. This slight detour from the current plot may seem annoying at first, what with the ongoing undercover Skrull conspiracy and the ending of the previous issue that had the Avengers starting to be possessed by symbiotes, but it turns out to be well worth the readerís while and absolutely necessary in setting The Hood up as any kind of credible nemesis for the New Avengers.
The Hood has been running around this book for the last two issues now, and his new role in the superpowered underbelly of New York was in dire need of some thorough examination. Parker Robbins is most likely a completely unknown entity for most readers, and itís kind of hard to imagine a guy whose whole shtick is becoming invisible being able to intimidate and coordinate a small army of supervillains. With this issue, Bendis gives the reader a look into what heís been up to and how heís managed to sway so many crooks to his cause. His most convincing argument comes in the form of the incredibly brutal beating of a female superhero who had the misfortune of crossing paths with one of his new protťgťs. By the end of the issue one still wonders though why a bunch of guys that includes the Wrecking Crew, the Griffin and Purple Man is that intimidated by a guy disappearing and reappearing on the other side of the room.
Robbinsí ace in the hole is the fact that he, somehow, knows the names and addresses of an undisclosed number of card-carrying superheroes. Some capes in the Marvel Universe make no secret of their real identity, and though in the past every now and then a villain might go after a heroís loved ones, a concerted effort from organised criminals targeting families is enough to show that these guys mean business. How does The Hood know all this stuff? My guess, heís a Skrull (no, seriously) and heís liaising with other Skrulls who have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and has access to their files. Think of Parker Robbins as the head of the first Supervillainsí Trade Union.
When Yu first started as regular penciller on the title, I was wooed by his work. His sketchier, angular, darker style seemed a great fit for this team of ďSecretĒ Avengers, in stark contrast with the bold superhero stuff in Mighty Avengers. Then he got to draw three issues of ninjas. I think anyoneís patience and enthusiasm would be sapped by that, and over the last couple of issues Yuís work has been lacking in clarity, his basic storytelling breaking down at times making for some confusing sequences. This issue, however, heís back on top of his game. Maybe itís the shift to a different group of characters, but it looks great and reads very easily. If his art style was a great fit for the New Avengers then itís a perfect fit for this bunch of C-list villains. He succeeds in making a guy whoís just wearing a hooded cloak look menacing, and even the more colourful members of the crew donít look gaudy or ridiculous. The art during the smack down scene is incredibly brutal and really makes the reader feel the pain the poor heroine is being put through.
Unfortunately, there is one thing that spoils what is otherwise a gritty but good issue. And thatís the impression that the writer and editors havenít actually bothered to do any research when it comes to the villains who are recruited by The Hood. Basically, any villain who escaped from the Raft three years ago is on the recruitment list. But the breakout was three years ago! Many of the villains involved have appeared elsewhere since then, and other writers have taken them in different directions. But Bendis either isnít aware of this or just doesnít care. Itís like he just gave a copy of the New Avengers: Most Wanted Files profile book to Yu and said ďdraw any of these guys.Ē Actually, thatís not quite true. Bendis or Yu seem to at least be aware of whatís been going on in Captain America, as Crossbones and King Cobra mercifully donít appear. But the restÖ We have Constrictor, whoís currently starring in Slottís Avengers: The Initiative and trying to walk the straight and narrow. We have the Wrecking Crew, currently in Canadian custody after the events of Omega Flight. Shit, even Nitro appears in the background in one shot. Some are more forgivable than others. After all, most of the prisons in the Marvel Universe have revolving doors, but some of these guys simply should not be there. I suppose it could be down to Yu; if heís not writing this stuff then he can be let off worrying about the bigger picture. But then what the hell are the editors on the book doing! Not the job theyíre being paid for obviously. But there are some mistakes that are undeniably the writerís fault. For example, Chemistro. Iíd never heard of the guy before, but it took me less than five minutes to unearth my Most Wanted Files handbook and read up on him and find out that the current Chemistro is Calvin Carr, not Curtis as Bendis would have us believe. This may sound like the ravings of a hardcore fan. Maybe it is. But why didnít anyone pick up on this? Itís not nit-picking. Itís just disappointment at people not doing a thorough job.
So, this is a better issue than a couple of the previous ones, both from the art perspective and the general advancement of the ongoing plotlines. Fortunately, the continuity mistakes can just about be ignored (pretend you never saw Constrictor, Nitro, Graviton, ArmadilloÖ), but they do mar what is an otherwise good book.
Paul Brian McCoy:
After last issueís cliffhanger ending, where New York was filling with Venom-looking Symbiotes, the New Avengers showed up on the scene and began to become infected themselves, and the Mighty Avengers were heading out to take on the menace (a menace that we have yet to see in the Mighty Avengersí own title, since over there, Tonyís still ďdeadĒ and Ultron is still ďJanĒ Ė I really would like to see how that worked out. *Sigh*), I wasnít sure what would be next. There are so many narrative threads dangling here that Bendis could, theoretically, just pick one at random and give us something interesting to read. Whatís up with the Skrulls? Whatís going on with Spider Woman and Stark? Whatís with these symbiotes running around? What about the Hood and his plans?
Well, donít pay any attention to the cover when looking for some clues about what to expect.
In what is not really a random pick at all, this month we roll back the clock and take a peek at what The Hood has been up to (besides hijacking Deathlok and shooting off Wolverineís junk). It should come as no surprise to the readers what heís been busying himself with, since itís been in all the interviews and advanced word: heís building a super villain syndicate. Now this is both a good and a bad idea. Well, more weak than bad, at this stage. Itís about time Marvel had its own Legion of Doom, even if it is made up of B and C-listers (or worse). Unfortunately, it also means that most characters just sit or stand around not saying or doing anything. I donít even know who most of these people are, but Iím sure some sort of Marvel Guide will be issued shortly.
But it doesnít really matter. Most of them are just there to provide color and fill space on the page. (Isnít The Purple Man in jail or something? I remember Luke beating the crap out of him.) Even when they go into action, theyíre pretty generic. In the big caper at the end of the comic, I think itís the Wrecking Crew and maybe someone else running off with bags of cash. But thereís no use of special powers or any distinguishing moments. Even their costumes are the blandest of the bland. No, they just rely on the carnage wrought by Deathlok to let them walk in and make off with the loot.
You donít know how hard it was for me to type that last sentence. Deathlok is one of my favorite characters, the original Deathlok (Luther Manning), anyway. This Deathlok hereówho Bendis called by name when he was revealed as the item The Owl was going to auction offóis used as nothing other than a big gun and a bomb. I really had hoped that something interesting might come of his return to the mainstream Marvel Universe, even though I know Bendis doesnít seem to care much about stories or characters that came before him (unless theyíre hot ladies, that is). Manning was a rare, original character. He was truly tragic and haunted by his circumstances. That original run in Astonishing Tales back in 1974 was great (if unfinished, really). It was dark, adult, and horrifying, especially to a 7 or 8 year old kid discovering it a little after the fact. Itís one of the reasons I like the type of comics I do today. Heís a character that Iíd love to see Ellis or Brubaker take and explore, either in a continuation of his original adventure or in a re-imagining that really explored his situation. Heís a soldier, dead and reanimated by this Deathlok program/hardware. Heís supposed to just be a gun, but heís conscious and dealing with the fact that heís officially, and literally, dead and has been co-opted as a weapon. It was good stuff. Not to mention that he came from an alternate future where everything had turned to shit. He might have some insight into the current MU and where it could be heading.
Needless to say, Iím a little let down by his treatment here.
But to look at the whole story without my Deathlok-colored glasses, I have to say this isnít too bad. Itís not great, but itís not horrible. The opening scene is comical with a pretty pathetic Jigsaw (are those tears, Jigsaw?) trying to rob what I can only assume is a box store since thereís no merchandise or evidence of anything of value in the scene. He is stopped by Tigra, for some reason, which then sets up a brutal retribution later in the book, which I honestly didnít care for. But it was effective. The violence was a bit extreme, but it does capture the threat that The Hood and his organization represent.
And this is the strongest part of the book. Unfortunately, its strength lies in that it is all about the potential for the continuation of this and future stories rather than being that strong in this particular issue. I really donít see how these guys can be a serious threat, unless the methods demonstrated in this issue are going to actually be used (and not just in titles Bendis writes) to make them the danger Bendis wants them to be. I just have a hard time seeing this play out, unless itís part of some plan to thin out the superhero herd across the MU.
Yuís art is good, for the most part. So long as people are standing or sitting around not doing anything, his dramatic line work is impressive. Itís as if heís working over every drawing with a sharp edge, scratching them into the page. His backgrounds are a bit sparse, or sometimes just bursts of color, so there are problems, as with the Jigsaw robbery, with actually knowing where things are happening. And when thereís action, he loses me completely. The sequences are hard to follow and the movements are awkward or make very little sense. Iíd love to see what he could do with someone else doing layouts (and maybe backgrounds???).
To be honest, after this issue, Iím not sure if I really care about The Hood and his plans. I donít think I really care about the Venom infestation either. Iím a little curious about Spider Woman and Iron Man getting together, but I assume thatís going to happen over in Mighty Avengers (if it ever gets caught up to the rest of the MU). I would like to know whatís up with the Skrulls though. Thatís really the only reason Iím sticking around. This comic has been average for too long. If it doesnít start doing something special, I think I may be done.
I predict that Brian Bendis will take a lot of flack for this issue, because - in a manner similar to Grant Morrison's first issue of The Authority - heís managed to write an entire issue of a team superhero comic in which the title characters barely appear. However, unlike that first Authority issue, the comic doesnít employ a radically different approach to the superhero genre, opting instead for the usual dialogue-heavy scripting and considered pacing that New Avengers readers will be used to by now. Instead, the interest comes with Bendis applying his regular schtick to a group of super-villains rather than superheroes. In doing so, he gives some attention to one of the more significant subplots of the last few issues - but it comes at the expense of the bookís regular cast of superheroes.
I donít want to be misconstrued here: I actually quite like the direction that Bendis is taking with his recent introduction of the Hood as a potential new Kingpin of crime in New York City. For a small-time crook with ideas above his station, the Hoodís motivations are logical: to organise the ramshackle C-list villains of the Marvel Universe into a coherent unit by pooling their resources, making the best use of their abilities, and taking advantage of the fact that most superheroes have been tied up by the chaos of their Civil War. Itís an obvious side-effect of the event, but one which has been neglected by Marvel editorial (who seem more concerned with pursuing the effects of the crossover on their hero characters) so Iím glad to see it explored here. Although a lot of readers will know Bendis for his superhero work, itís important to remember that he started his career writing crime comics, and judging from this issue, I get the impression that he still has a lot of love for the genre. Thereís a confidence and conviction to his uncharacteristically pointed plotting and snappy dialogue and interactions that isnít always apparent in his more conventional superhero stories, and itís nice to see.
I also donít have a problem with the fact that this group of street-level thugs is a world away from the cosmically-powered beings and global threats that the ďclassicĒ iterations of the Avengers fought. The New Avengers are a very different crowd, and this cluster of villains seems like a good fit for their abilities and power set. However, the fact that a huge chunk of the groupís backstory takes up an entire issue of New Avengers - to the exclusion of the Avengers themselves - makes it feel like a distraction, rather than an important part of the book which is worth devoting such a large amount of space to explore. Again, thereís a touch of A.D.D. about the overall plotting of the arc, and Iím surprised that Bendis would build so much tension in his Skrull storyline only to abandon it and start examining the Hoodís sinister machinations in such detail. Even if the writer has plans to make this society of super-villains a major part of future storylines, the background thatís provided here is material which could have been integrated into a story about the Avengers, rather than taking up an entire issue to itself. Itís an example of an issue which might read better as part of a whole, but which makes for an unsatisfying monthly comic.
If thereís one element of the book which really does succeed, itís Leinil Yuís art. His linework feels far sharper and more defined here than usual (I wonder if thereís been a change in the process?), and he deals with the large group scenes well. Thereís a tension and atmosphere to the scenes which deal with Tigra which isnít apparent in the bare text, which is probably as much due to the strong work of colourist Dave McCaig as it is to Yu. I also have to commend the artist for his highly detailed rendering of Jigsaw, which really reinforces the grotesqueness of his appearance. Coupled with the powerful depiction of Deathlok, it shows Yu to be a versatile artist who can deal with a lot of different characters and do them all justice, which is an important attribute for a team book.
Itís possible that the battle between the New Avengers and the Venom symbiotes was always intended to be shown in the pages of Mighty Avengers rather than here, giving Bendis the chance to use this book to flesh out some of his secondary subplots. However, considering the cliffhanger ending of the last issue, the Wolverine/Venom cover of this issue, and the current delays to Mighty Avengers, I wouldnít be surprised if this issueís story had been thought up at fairly short notice in order to delay the next issue of the current New Avengers arc and so avoid spoiling the events of the sister title. New Avengers has a history of being interrupted by scheduling problems and editorial reshuffles, and sometimes it has been able to turn those unexpected hiccups to its advantage. Here, Bendis devotes an issue almost exclusively to a secondary story strand and does manage to make it reasonably entertaining despite the fact that it doesnít advance the core plot of the series. Still, it isnít the story many readers will have been expecting, and it feels like more of a diversion from the main book than an important part of the story.
If youíre keen on finding out more about the Hoodís plans to take over the New York underworld, youíll welcome this issue as an opportunity to learn more about exactly how heís going about becoming the new ďKingpin.Ē If youíre a fan of Bendisí earlier crime work, you might see this as a welcome throwback of sorts to the kind of material which first got him noticed in the industry. However, if youíre looking for a progression of any of the plot points which directly relate to the New Avengers themselves, you might well be disappointed.
What did you think of this book?
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